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Argentine protesters want mayor to resign after fatal fire

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Thousands of Argentines angered over safety lapses at a nightclub where a fire killed 183 people, many of them teenagers, marched through capital streets Monday holding pictures of the victims and demanding the resignations of key city officials.

The third straight day of protests over the fire Thursday during a rock concert came as forensic experts studied whether a flare launched by an audience member lit foam on the club's ceiling, asphyxiating many with choking fumes.

City officials revised the death toll downward from 188 to 183 on Monday. The fire also injured 700 people, and 263 people remained in hospitals Monday, including 117 in serious or critical condition.

Many in the crowd of 4,000 or so protesters said that Buenos Aires Mayor Anibal Ibarra should be held accountable, and that new citywide reforms should be imposed on all clubs.

The father of one victim reportedly set himself on fire during the protest before other demonstrators doused the flames with water, according to local news reports. Television images showed the man lying on the ground before being carried to an ambulance. His condition was not immediately known.

The demonstrators voiced anger over reports suggesting emergency exits were padlocked or tied shut with wire, turning the Cromagnon Republic nightclub into a trap when flames broke out during the concert by the local band Los Callejeros.

"How could so many young people have died?" asked one 51-year-old protester, Jose Fuentes. "This tragedy is the product of political corruption that looks the other way and lets the clubs function without meeting even minimum norms for security."

But the mayor was quick to reject such charges by the marchers, who included family members carrying photographs of their children. He ordered city clubs closed for two weeks of safety inspections and banned indoor concerts indefinitely.

On Monday, Ibarra told the La Nacion newspaper in its online edition that the Cromagnon Republic was inspected by firefighters in April. In the interview, he charged that any addition of flammable materials to the club's ceiling came after that certification.

Thursday's fire was this country's worst in recent memory.

About 4,000 people, mostly teenagers, were packed inside the club -- which only had a capacity of 1,500 -- when the fire broke out. Reeling from thick smoke, panicked crowds surged toward the doors, trampling each other in desperate efforts to flee. Many of the victims died from smoke inhalation. Argentine media reports said crumpled bodies were found in a pile near one blocked exit.


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